A eulogy for books, but long live stories
I'm a slow adopter of technology. But I bought a Kindle this summer and I am now – to my surprise – writing a eulogy for the old-fashioned book. Even as we bury the book, let us praise the story, which will live forever.
I’m a notoriously slow adopter of technology. I still don’t have my first iPod. I’m waiting for version 99.0, the one that will reach into my memory to find and form my playlist. And do it while I’m asleep. I had several computers before I stopped writing my first drafts longhand, on yellow legal pads. I didn’t get a DVR until it came through the cable into my house as part of my package. And I still don’t use it. But I got a Kindle this summer, and I’m in love with it. Go figure.
A Kindle is exactly the thing a slow adopter like me would be writing about. Only I would expect I’d be railing against it as I did a few years ago about camera phones. Why, I screamed into the void, do I need a camera in my phone? Why not a toaster? I am exactly the type of person I would expect to write an ode to the old-fashioned book. Which is why I am writing its eulogy.
There’s a good chance I’ve bought my last book. At least the kind of book made out of paper and constructed of pre-industrial revolution technology. Oh, I may still buy the occasional art book, but I have most likely bought my last paperback novel.
And if a lover of reading and of old things, a nostalgic Boomer like me has bought his last book, then the book’s demise is near. I guess I was secretly hoping there would be a reason that books made of paper and ink had to survive. Some functional benefit to holding the book in the flesh. Some argue that such benefits exist, but after reading several books on my Kindle, I can’t find any. Well, maybe one.
With a traditional book, you rarely forget who the author is, but because the Kindle takes you right back to where you last stopped reading – skipping the book’s “cover” – the writer’s name often escapes you. But if that’s the only price I’m paying for the privilege of carrying a whole library around with me, that’s a deal I’m going to take. I may be an old romantic, but lugging a bunch of books around in my briefcase for the last 30 years has done nothing for my posture.
Some other things I’ve noticed about reading on a Kindle: My arms don’t ache. Nor do my eyes – I can make the font larger. Speaking of aches, I don’t feel the guilty one I used to feel whenever I dog-eared a page. And I don’t mind one bit that no trees were killed in the making of the book I’m reading.
Technology may be changing the physical form of the book, which is only about 600 years old, but it will be no match for the essential form of the book – the story – which goes back to the beginning of our species. Electronic readers won’t bend the story’s arc. They won’t change the way a gun introduced early in the book will most likely go off before “The End.” The way writers reveal character, in a slip of phrase, in an almost imperceptible nod. The innocent way stories have of seducing you into shedding your disbelief. No e-reader will change the power stories have to erase pain, incite lust, prompt laughter, soften bitterness, and spark hope.
So as we bury the book, let us now and forever praise the story.
Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising. He writes for the Monitor every other Friday.